Arizona Wildcats basketball: Tested Long Beach State visits McKale

Kelvin Kuo-US PRESSWIRE

The Arizona Wildcats host a Long Beach State team that has already played two power six schools.

Time: 7 p.m. MST

TV: Pac-12 Networks

Two mid-majors sit in the Arizona Wildcats' victory belt. Though Sean Miller fills his schedule with winning ball clubs, his team's next opponent has a resume that, while lacking in wins, is far and away further along as far as experience in this young season is concerned.

The Long Beach State 49ers (1-2) visit McKale Center Monday night on a two-game losing streak, but losses to the USC Trojans and the North Carolina Tar Heels only could lead to a bigger itch for the Big West preseason favorite to beat the Wildcats in Tucson.

While they fell 62-44 to Kevin O'Neill's improved team -- yes, it can't be anything but improved -- and lost to UNC 78-63, the double-digit differences don't tell the story of the flashes in LBSU's competitiveness. In both games, LBSU had the game within reach at the half, but allowed second-half spurts to never recover. The Wildcats must use similar runs to beat the 49ers, and then the young team must be able to keep the lead.

Head coach Dan Monson has six returning players from the past two seasons, and the talent is there to give Arizona a run for its money.

The 49ers are competitive, and it's not a fluke.

Last season, the 49ers were a No. 12 seed and lost to the New Mexico Lobos in the second round of the NCAA tournament. They had a 25-9 record, and a resume full of upsets and close games with very good teams. LBSU beat then-No. 9 Pittsburgh and then-No. 15 Xavier in the nonconference schedule in 2011-12, and it also fell by single digits to eventually national championship runner-up Kansas and then-No. 6 North Carolina.

The 49ers are led by senior guard James Ennis, who is averaging 16.7 points per game. At 6-foot-7, he could pose the same problems for the Wildcats as did lengthy UTEP wings Julian and Chris Washburn, though Ennis does most of his damage in the paint. He could, however, be a problem from both a rebounding front (6.7 rebounds per game) and as a defender (1.3 blocks and 1.0 steals per game).

At the point guard spot, sophomore Mike Caffey is a threat in a number of ways -- much in the same way as UA's Mark Lyons. Caffey leads LBSU with three assists per game but also averages 13.3 points and grabs four rebounds despite his 6-foot frame.

Long Beach State will have help from West Virginia transfer Dan Jennings, a 6-foot-9, 255 pound big man who is pulling down 8.7 boards a night -- not to mention the early-season growth through the unforgiving schedule.

The Wildcats will have a great advantage in the depth department, as usual. With LBSU point guard Bradford Jones out with a foot injury, Monson has essentially used an eight- or seven-man rotation in the past two games.

LBSU only shot 29 percent against the Trojans and 36 percent against the No. 11 Tar Heels as well, then got outrebounded in both contests.

So the memo from Miller to the Wildcats will likely be much of the same as it's been early on this season. Arizona can win with depth, size and a strong effort rebounding -- the third item is where the Wildcats showed the most promise against a UTEP team that had pretty good size itself.

Still, you've got to worry about the 49ers using Monday night's game as a third-try-is-a-charm type opportunity for a resume-building victory against a high-profile team.

They've a history of doing just that.

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